Who is Immanuel?

Be honest. Did you listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving? How about before Halloween? If you did, shame on you. I’m kidding, of course. I like listening to some Christmas songs all year long.

Even if you don’t listen to Christmas music on the radio, the scents of fresh pine needles, spiced apple cider, and warm sugar cookies probably get you in the Christmas spirit. This is also the time of year when we read passages from Scripture about the birth of Jesus. One of the most familiar verses is Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Is Isaiah really talking about Jesus? Yes and no. Let me explain.

Seven hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were split into two kingdoms. They  rebelled against God and as a result he brought the powerful nation of Assyria to attack them in judgment.

The northern kingdom, Israel, made a treaty with the nation of Aram to team up against the Assyrians. These two nations began to pressure the southern kingdom, Judah, to join them.

Judah had a decision to make.

You see, making a treaty with another nation was tantamount to treason against God. How could you say you really trusted in God to save you if you sought safety in a treaty with Aram? In fact, God had specifically forbade making treaties with other nations in Exodus 34:11-16.

Isaiah knew this, and he prophesied that there would be judgment and salvation. If Judah trusted God alone, they would be saved. But Israel would be destroyed because they compromised.

To prove that this would happen, Isaiah said, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This name means “God with us.”

Isaiah said that before this boy was a toddler, Israel and Aram would be destroyed. He was talking about an actual child who was a sign of God’s promise to judge and to save. If you look at the next chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 8:3-4, you will see that Isaiah’s own son fulfills the prophecy of the Immanuel child.

When Assyria attacked a year or two later, they destroyed Israel and Aram. But when Assyria closed in on Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, God miraculously spared the southern kingdom.

Fast forward to Jesus. Matthew 1:21-23 says that Jesus’ birth fulfilled what was written in Isaiah 7:14 about Immanuel. This doesn’t mean that Isaiah was only talking about Jesus. Isaiah was also writing about an actual child who was born seven hundred years before Jesus.

You see, there are layers to prophetic passages like this. Isaiah’s Immanuel is a paradigm. Immanuel is the physical sign that God is with his people and that he alone will judge and save. Like a crescendo, the Bible moves toward Jesus who embodies this paradigm perfectly and ultimately.

Just as Judah was on the brink of destruction, but God spared the capital city of Jerusalem in divine victory, so Jesus suffered and was put to death and gained the ultimate victory in his resurrection.

Jesus is the ultimate Judge and he is our only Savior. The baby Jesus is Immanuel; he is “God with us.” His birth is a sign that God will judge those who rebel and save those who trust in him alone.

Thank God for his grace that saves us while we are still sinners. This is certainly something to celebrate this Christmas season!

Brent Kompelien is Church Planting Resident Pastor with the Evangelical Free Church of America and is training at Solano Community Church.

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